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Great Indian Bustard • Status & Conservation

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Great Indian Bustard

IN NEWS: Poaching of Great Indian Bustard

  • The Great Indian Bustard is peculiar to the semi-arid grasslands of Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh.
  • A recent incident of alleged poaching of a Great Indian Bustard – the State bird of Rajasthan listed in the “critically endangered” category – near the famous Sam sand dunes in Jaisalmer district has shocked environmentalists.
  •  A case has been registered under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972.
  • The eyewitness reported that one of the poachers had made phone calls twice before and after opening fire on the bird. Police are trying to trace the calls.
  • The Great Indian Bustard, taxonomically classified as Ardeotis nigriceps, is on the verge of extinction and is now restricted to Rajasthan, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The bird’s hunting is illegal and its number in Rajasthan is less than 100.
  • People come in big jeeps to hunt ‘Tiloor’ (Houbara) and ‘Godawan’ (Great Indian Bustard).
  • Even the MGNREGS work for the Shonkaliya region – sanctioned in Ajmer for leaving the pasture land for the endangered bird’s habitation for certain months every year – was not making any progress.

Background

  • Bustards (family Otididae), which is a terrestrial grassland bird and includes 25 species across the world, is a threatened group.
  • Of the 25 species of Bustards, India is home to 4 species: Great Indian Bustard (Ardeotis nigriceps), Lesser Florican (Sypheotides indica), Bengal Florican (Houbaropsis bengalensis) and Houbara Bustard.
  • Since the past few decades, the populations of these four Bustard species have been dwindling very fast in the country.
  • Currently, not more than 300 individuals of GIB are left in the world, with no known breeding population outside India.
  • The situation is, similarly grim in cases of Bengal Florican and Lesser Florican.
  • Habitat loss and degradation, coupled with poaching and overgrazing of grasslands are considered some of the major reasons for the drastic decline in Bustard populations.
  • While the Lesser Florican is listed as an ‘ENDANGERED’ species in the IUCN Red List 2011, the GIB and Bengal Florican have been listed as ‘CRITICALLY ENDANGERED’ in IUCN Red List 2011- the highest category of endangerment, applied to the species closest to extinction.
  • In addition, the three species have also been listed under the Schedule-I of Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972 of India.
  • Looking at  their  critical  situation  and high probability of extinction  in the near future, the  Ministry of Environment and Forests has identified the  three  Bustard species  under the Species Recovery  component of the  Centrally Sponsored Scheme-  Integrated Development of Wildlife  Habitats (CSS-IDWH).
  • A Task Force was constituted by the Ministry on 17 the September 2010 with a mandate to look into the issue of conservation of Bustards in India and to prepare an Action Plan for the same.

Status of Bustards in India

  • Historically, Great Indian Bustard was distributed throughout the western half of India;  from Punjab and Haryana in north to Tamil Nadu in south, and from Gujarat and Rajasthan in  west to Orissa in east; spanning eleven states
  • Knowledgeable estimate of the current global population of GIB is less than 300 birds.
  • Similarly, Lesser Florican was once abundant in the grasslands of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra and Karnataka, and was a common ‘game’ bird of the region. However, due to a declining population, now its occurrence is restricted to few pockets in Western and South-central India.
  • Currently, less than 2500 individuals are estimated to be surviving.
  • Unlike the Great Indian Bustard  and Lesser Florican, the main  stronghold of the  Indian  sub-species of Bengal Florican  was from  terai  in Uttar Pradesh, through the  terai  of Nepal  and  duars  of North Bengal, to Assam and Arunachal Pradesh foothills, and historically to  Bangladesh.
  • Today, it is surviving in small, highly fragmented populations restricted to few Protected Areas, with an estimated population in India to be less than 350 birds.
  • The range of these birds spans beyond the Protected Areas and in terms of the type and degree of threats.
  • Therefore, identifying the major site-specific threats faced by the birds should be the first step before devising a Recovery Action Plan.
  • Consequently, the activities proposed in the Recovery Plan will have to be in accordance with the specific threat identified for a particular site. For the same BUSTARD RECOVERY PROGRAMME has been initiated, which enunciates that each range State will constitute Bustard Conservation Committees (BCC) for each Management Unit/Division.
Map: Great Indian Bustard population distribution in India depicting conservation priority based on population status and potential for long term viability.
Map: Great Indian Bustard population distribution in India depicting conservation priority based on population status and potential for long term viability.

Local community participation in Bustard conservation

  • The central guidelines also stress on the importance of local community participation in conservation. BCCs should have members from the local panchyats and the field studies will also record the major livelihood means of nearby villages of the Critical Bustard Areas, says the MoEF guidelines.
  • It also urges the state governments to make a compensatory mechanism, public consultations, awareness campaigns and help people to find alternate sources of livelihood to stop hunting and stealing Bustard eggs.
  • Fencing of the critically Bustard Areas and daily monitoring of such areas with local community participation is also suggested.

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